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Sunset in Sacramento

Sunset in Sacramento

Author: Sandhya Jain
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: March 7, 2006

The apparently acceptable Indo-US nuclear deal may have caused satisfaction to South Block and the State Department, but America's Hindu community is feeling psychologically beleaguered as old Hindu-baiters from both countries gang up to abort a necessary correction of school textbooks in California. As the issue has a bearing on the self-esteem of Hindu Americans, besides relating to the integrity of Hindu civilisation and its correct depiction, I am surprised that the BJP, which initiated the tilt towards Washington and also undertook the revision of history textbooks while in power, did not so much as whisper its concern to the visiting President George Bush.

Neither Prime Minister Manmohan Singh nor UPA supremo Sonia Gandhi can be expected to be sympathetic to Hindu concerns in either country. Ms Gandhi has overseen the placement of old party favourites in educational and cultural institutions and the restitution of a rendering of Indian history that fails to instill national pride in the student. We are thus faced with the old colonial reconstruction of Indian history, which diminishes the fabulous achievements of Hindu civilisation and the unity of its social constituents, and deconstructs it into a disparate mosaic whose different components do not amount to a cultural coherence.

America's Hindu community has long borne the burden of a humiliating and incorrect depiction of Hindu religion and culture; parents have faced young children saying they are ashamed to be Hindus. This motivated parents in Fairfax County to seek removal of distorted passages in textbooks, and California Hindus followed suit when the due process for revision of textbooks began last year.

Unfortunately, unlike Islam and Judaism, America's Hindus lack political clout. Hence they were hopelessly out-manoeuvred by professional Hindu-haters led by Prof Michael Witzel of the Harvard Sanskrit Department. As Harvard University ignored protests that Herr Witzel was misusing the varsity letterhead to pursue a political agenda, Hindus should settle scores by forcing closure of the Sanskrit Department by ensuring that the professor gets no students for two successive terms. Hindus should also reconsider support to Senators like Bobby Jindal, who have renounced and denounced the faith in which they were born in order to pursue political ambitions, but are insensitive to the concerns of those who elect them. Indian-origin fundraisers for any politician should also be made to understand that they cannot get something for nothing.

Like Jews and Muslims, Hindus only wanted the textbooks to portray their religion and history fairly and accurately. They diligently followed the due process and got several changes approved in this manner. Sadly, the California school board allowed this process to be hijacked by Herr Witzel, who claimed to be a religious scholar, though he is a non-Hindu, a known Hindu-baiter, and proponent of the discredited Aryan Invasion Theory. The Witzel intervention was both illegal and untenable, and could not have been possible without backroom manipulation of the state board of education (SBE); Hindus owe it to future generations to bring out the truth through a good courtroom battle.

The California SBE gave undue advantage to Herr Witzel when it should not have entertained him at all, especially after he said he was acting on an anonymous complaint from a non-existent Arun Vajpayee. Yet Witzel and his collaborator Steve Farmer immediately launched a high-decibel political campaign against the Hindu community's proposed corrections, claiming these were motivated by "Hindu nationalism" (whatever that means) and getting bodies like the Federation of Indian Leftists (FOIL) to enter the fray. They alleged that American Hindu families seeking textbook revisions had links with the post-Godhra Gujarat mobs!

It is unforgivable that the school board deferred to such a shocking defamation of the Hindu American community in California, and a good attorney should be hired for a class action suit. Even more astonishing is the fact that the SBE set up a curriculum review panel (CRP) comprising Witzel, Stanley Wolpert (who signed Witzel's appeal to SBE - so much for objectivity), and a hired Prof James Heitzman. This CRP rejected 58 changes approved by CBE-appointed expert Prof Shiva Bajpai, and labeled him a "Hindutva apologist;" Hindu Americans learnt of the existence of the CRP much later. It is significant that the changes sought by other religious groups were accepted in toto, without being subjected to other-community review and endorsement, and this reflects a religio-cultural bias against Hindus which the dominant Christian monotheists of America need to admit.

Worse, the defamation and untruths do not end here. Last December, a Kansas University Professor of Religious Studies, Paul Mirecki, who enraged Christian bigots by lampooning the Biblical version of Creation, was beaten up; he told police that the men who beat him made references to his controversial statements in this regard. Yet in an article in a leading magazine in India, Witzel and Romila Thapar concealed the truth and insinuated that the professor was beaten by so-called Hindu fundamentalists. They further alleged that death threats were made to some of their gang.

Yet Witzel and Thapar erode their already dubious academic credibility by claiming that NASA and ISRO satellite imagery of ancient riverbeds along the famed route of the Saraswati do not prove the existence of the river in Vedic times. More embarrassingly for the California board, they admit the textbooks contain many passages that are "very culturally biased and insensitive". Indeed, they assert that the authors of the impugned textbooks lack the knowledge and qualifications for the task, and suggest dumping both textbooks and authors and hiring so-called international scholars from The Academic Indology Advisory Council¸ which they have set up with fellow travellers.

Surely the next step will be political lobbying on Capitol Hill to ensure that these self-accredited anti-Hindu academics become the sole contractors for writing Hindu religion and history! Witzel-Thapar want to launch an academic license-permit raj in the Free World, to teach the erstwhile natives their place.

In the circumstances, the Hindu Education Foundation (HEF) has done well to continue the struggle. Besides violating due process, the SBE failed to consider over 300 errors identified by the Vedic Foundation (VF). Alleging bias, VF plans to pursue matters with an independent panel of specialist Hindu scholars within US academia. It points out that the interpretation of Hindu dharma in the impugned books is at variance with the way Hindus understand and practice their faith, a fact which cannot be treated lightly.

Why, for instance, should devout Hindus accept that their children be taught that "Hindus worship talking monkeys and throw widows into fires". Why should the primordial stories in Hindu scriptures be branded as 'myths' when the scriptures of monotheistic traditions are said to come from Only One (mutually exclusive) God(s)? Most dishonest is the politically motivated attempt to project social evils like untouchability and rigid caste divisions upon India's ancient civilisation, when both are products of the medieval encounter with Islam. Is there a link between these biases and the US Administration's current interest in women and Dalit (mostly Christian converts) rights?

Despite protests, the California SBE genuflected before antagonistic scholars. Hindus in India and America would do well to ponder why Islamic countries consistently stay aloof from the writing of Hindu or Indian history, including that of the medieval period, and all intellectual colonialism, whether of the capitalist or communist variety, has back-linkages with the West.

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